HL Deb 02 July 1947 vol 149 cc780-5

3.12 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


I beg to move that the Bill be read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Viscount Hall.)


My Lords, I appreciate that on this occasion it is not in order for me to go at any length into certain things that are happening in the Territorial Army at the present time. Had not the situation been so grave, I would not have ventured to rise this afternoon and say, as I am going to say, a few things that I think His Majesty's Government should know. I do not believe for one moment that the senior officers at the War Office are in the least to blame for the position in which the Territorial Army finds itself to-day. These are questions which can be settled by His Majesty's Government, and by His Majesty's Government only. I have had correspondence sent to me from no less than three Territorial Associations all speaking of the same thing—the complete lack of readiness from the top; that is, from the Prime Minister and the Government.

The success of this Bill depends entirely upon the foundations of the Territorial Army in years to come. If these foundations are not truly laid, then no matter how good a training the national service man will have received in the Army, it will all go for naught after he leaves it, and this Bill will be so much waste paper. I had some hard things to say, as many of my noble friends had, on March 26, when I thought this was an ill-advised question to be brought forward at the time; but none of your Lordships, let alone the Government, can accuse any of us old Territorial officers and young ones of not having responded to the call and done all we can to make it a success. Unfortunately, we have had no leadership from the Government on all the vital questions which must be settled immediately. I am not going into details, this is not the time, but I mention the question of holidays and of pay without Income Tax. Unless the foundations are cemented together now, I can assure the Government, as I did on March 26, that this Bill will be fatal and the results will be chaotic. I hope that from to-day onwards the Territorial Army will get a real lead from the Prime Minister, and that the Government will show the country they really mean business, and are not just playing with this, as I think they have been for the last three months.


My Lords, before we part with this very vital measure I would make one or two comments, and I hope my brevity will not detract from the vital importance, as I consider it, of this Bill to the country. I hope the noble Viscount, who has been conducting this Bill with such ability and courtesy, will admit that on this side we have intervened with one object and one object only—namely, that of seeing that the defence of our country on sea, land, and in the air is made as efficient as possible. If there are weaknesses in the Bill—and I agree with my noble friend who has just spoken that we need a lead on this subject—I trust that those weaknesses will never emerge in any hour of tragedy. We give our full support to this measure, attenuated as it is, and although it does not fulfil the great expectations we had when the Bill was introduced by the Government in another place. I want to offer one word of warning with regard to refresher courses—so-called—of part-time soldiers who have passed out of the Army into the Territorial Army. I urge the Government to be ready to watch events very carefully and if they see the necessity to make a change, to have the courage to make it, because they will have the assent of all Parties if we can only make this measure workable. What alarmed me, I confess, was the proposal of sixty days' training for part-time Territorials after the full-time service in the Army was cut down from eighteen months to a year. It occurred to me at the time, and I feel now more strongly on the subject, that the machinery might not be adequate.

I hope I may be forgiven if I say I do not speak without experience. I have now served for forty-nine years in the Territorial Army at home in peace and in war, and on a Territorial Association, and even in my old age I had the honour to be a commanding officer in the Home Guard —and we were not only armed with pikes. As one who has built up two different battalions from zero, I am convinced it is not the best method of getting efficiency by asking men to do sixty days spread over so many years. How much more wise is what I understand to be the suggestion of the Royal Navy, to get the men together and train them for two or three weeks, on ships if possible. If men in the Territorial Army just drop into a drill hall once a fortnight—" I have come to do my couple of hours to-day" —in the middle of a training course, it is almost impossible for the commanding officer to get an efficient force. On the other hand, if he has all his men under his command for a fortnight in camp, even if only in odd years, he can masse an efficient unit. Had I been asked for my advice, I would have said that that is a sound thing to do. Give these men to the commanding officers in such a manner that they really can give refresher courses. I offer this comment in no spirit of hostility. If the Government find that the present plan after a few years is not working, then I hope they will be ready to reconsider the method of training. My own view is that after a man has done his year's service in the Army and comes into the Territorial Army he would rather not be messed about for so many day s a year. It would be better for his general happiness and outlook if he were to get a fortnight's training which made him feel he was keeping up to date with modern requirements. With these few words, I wish to support the Third Reading.


My Lords, I cannot allow this Bill to become an Act without making one or two remarks to reinforce what the noble Lord has just said. I wish this Bill to work well, but I am perfectly certain it will not, unless it is accepted by the young fellows who are called up for the year's training and they find they are really doing a real training job, and not menial duties. I think it will be of great benefit not only to the Army but to the nation as well. This year's training—I am talking especially from the Army point of view—requires a great deal of preparation beforehand to see that these men really do get trained, that they have the necessary paraphernalia, the machines, and everything else which a modern army requires. Unless they have those things, they will feel that their time is wasted; and once the young men of this country begin to feel that their time is being wasted, then all that is laid down in this Bill for their training for the defence of this country will be lost.

The second point I wish to make is this. Once these young fellows have done their year's training, and come to do their part-time training in future years, I hope they will not be put back to do what they have already learnt. This will depend very largely upon the quality of the officers who carry out the training in the various Territorial units. I think the War Office ought to be very careful in selecting officers who are able to continue the training which the men have done in the year in the Forces. This is an experiment in peace-time which we all hope will work well; but it will only work well with very careful arrangements beforehand, and if it becomes a really popular service. If it becomes a popular service, I think it will do the very greatest good, but as my noble friend Lord Croft said, the continuation in the Territorial units will be most difficult to arrange, unless you have suitable officers there who are able to continue the training. I can only say to His Majesty's Government that I wish them well in carrying out this measure, and I hope it will be the success which they think it will be.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, in this the closing phase of this very important Bill, the speeches of noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate have been—as, indeed, they have been throughout all its stages—very helpful. I would like to take this opportunity of expressing not only my own appreciation, but that of His Majesty's Government, for the assistance which we have received from noble Lords opposite in relation to the passage of this Bill.

This is a very important Bill—a Bill which interferes not only with the life of the individual and the domestic circumstances of the home, but with industry and our national life. It is remarkable that a Bill of this magnitude has been able to pass through all its stages in both Houses with so little controversy in regard to its main principles. It is true that there has been some controversy as to changes but, on the whole, I think noble Lords opposite, and members of the Opposition in another place, will readily give to the Government a meed of praise for the courage which they have indicated and expressed in introducing a Bill of this kind in peace-time. It is not easy for this nation to settle down to compulsory military service in peace-time, with the exception, of course, of a period when the ugly shadow of war overhangs the lives of the people of the country. The Government have faced up to the situation and introduced this Bill.

I want to assure my noble friend Lord Croft that in the event of any changes being necessary in the future with regard to any aspect of this Bill, he can rely upon it that the present Government, no less than any future Government, will do all that is necessary to see that this nation is able to defend itself, and make its contribution in the interest of the great international organization for the maintenance of peace. As to the course of the debates in your Lordships' House, I think that in the main it is the organization of the Territorial Army which has taken up a large amount of time. I am not complaining of that; it was very necessary for noble Lords to put their points of view. His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the importance of the Territorial Army, and, indeed, to the importance of reserves generally in the three Services.

I would like to assure the noble Viscount, Lord Long, that what he has stated to-day will certainly be brought to the notice of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War. I think it can be said that we are doing all that we possibly can. The Prime Minister himself has taken a very active part, as one who knows not only what the Army is from the theoretical angle, but also from the practical point of view, and how important it is that we shall, between now and the date when this Bill becomes an Act and comes into operation fully, realize the importance of the Territorial Army. I agree with the remarks which fell from the lips of the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison. Not only must this Act operate, but those who are called up under it must realize that they are rendering a useful service to the State. I am not pessimistic in this connexion. Who are in charge of the Services at the present time? None other than those who rendered such valiant service during the period of the war. There are no officers more fitted to build up the new forces which this Act will provide than those men who rendered that valiant service. Not only must we make it popular to the men who serve, but we must make the people of this country fully understand the purpose of this legislation. I am convinced that it will work and work successfully, and that it will be of lasting benefit to this nation.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.